Senator Newton: Minnesota Needs All-of-the-Above Strategy to Address Addiction

State lawmakers this year invested significant time into addressing rampant opioid addiction, but according to a new report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development, Minnesota is facing an “addiction crisis” that is larger in scope than any single drug. The report, published June 2018, says that meth is a growing cause for concern, especially in Greater Minnesota.

In response to soaring meth use in the early 2000s, the Legislature restricted consumers’ ability to purchase cold and allergy medicine containing an ingredient called pseudoephedrine. Around the same time, the United States Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act to regulate retail sales of products, including pseudoephedrine, used to manufacture illegal drugs. As a result, meth use declined for years. However, meth smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border is fueling a major comeback in recent years.

During the same timeframe, opioid addiction began to grow in our state and throughout our country. The Minnesota Department of Health found that between 2000 and 2016, deaths from prescription opioids increased 631% statewide. In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. Elected officials from both parties agree that the current situation cannot be allowed to continue, but there is disagreement about how to best address it.

I fundamentally believe that pharmaceutical companies need to play a significant role in addressing the escalating societal costs of opioid abuse. Evidence suggests that Big Pharma knowingly created this problem, similar to how tobacco companies misled consumers about the safety of cigarettes. Opioid manufacturers and distributors are facing lawsuits from consumers and state attorneys general, including here in Minnesota. It remains to be seen what impact legal action will have.

As your state senator, I am fighting to protect taxpayers like you from being on the hook for a problem Big Pharma knowingly created. For example, I support an Opioid Stewardship Fee of one penny for every opiate painkiller sold. A “penny-a-pill” fee would generate $20 million annually for treatment and local government costs. My senate colleagues and I approved a modified version of the bill containing a registration fee on manufacturers and wholesalers by a margin of 60-6, but it died in the House of Representatives, where some legislators caved to strong industry opposition after Big Pharma flooded the Capitol with lobbyists. As a result, taxpayers will continue to shoulder the costs of addressing the opioid epidemic in the form of a bigger property tax bill.

Like opioids, rising meth use is putting a strain on city and county finances. In the year 2001, meth accounted for 27% of drug arrests. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, it accounted for 74% in 2017, totaling 2,125 arrests. In addition, the Minnesota Hospital Association acknowledges that providers in Greater Minnesota are seeing an increase in meth use among emergency room patients.

When a new Governor and Legislature return to Saint Paul in January 2019, lawmakers will create a new two-year budget to finance state expenditures, such as K-12 education, health care, and public safety. When we do, developing an all-of-the-above strategy to address our state’s larger “addiction crisis” must be a top priority.


This commentary originally appeared in ABC Newspapers.

Jerry Newton is a state senator who represents Blaine, Coon Rapids, and Spring Lake Park. He is the Ranking Member of the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and a member of the following committees: Family Care and Aging; and Higher Education Finance and Policy. Sen. Newton is also a member of the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission and the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. A high-resolution photo of Sen. Newton is available for download here.

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